Camp Hale Is Officially a National Monument. Here’s Where It Is.
The newest national monument sits in the heart of Colorado’s ski country. Here’s what you need to know about Camp Hale–Continental Divide National Monument.
Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
On Wednesday, President Biden inked a proclamation to officially create Camp Hale-Continental Divide National Monument, the first national monument to be created during his presidency. Biden announced the move from the grounds of Camp Hale, which was a former Army base where the 10th Mountain Division trained before fighting in World War II.
“I’m honored to sign this proclamation and preserve a special part of our military history,” Biden said.
The national monument encompasses 53,800 acres, and it sits right in the heart of Colorado’s ski country. It is split into two main territories: the Tenmile and Camp Hale areas. The Camp Hale area is located between the towns of Leadville and Red Cliff, with the Climax molybdenum mine located on its eastern boundary. Copper Mountain ski resort and Vail Resort are on the area’s northern and northeast flanks, and Ski Cooper, another ski area, is to the south.
The Tenmile area is located approximately eight miles to the east, and it encompasses a portion of the Tenmile mountain range and a long stretch of the Continental Divide. It is bordered on the north by the town of Frisco and on the east by Breckenridge ski resort and Hoosier Pass. Included in that protected area is 14,271-foot Quandary Peak, which in recent years has become the state’s most climbed fourteener.
The Camp Hale area was originally included in the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy (CORE) Act, but that piece of legislation had stalled in Congress. Under the Antiquities Act of 1906, the president can use executive power to extend legal protection to natural, historic, and scientific resources on Federal lands. The act has been used 188 total times and by 18 presidents.
Camp Hale’s history, and the remains of the military infrastructure, made it an ideal candidate under the Antiquities Act, officials said. The area sits in the White River National Forest, the most-visited national forest in the U.S., which attracts over ten million visitors each year.
Skiers to Soldiers
Camp Hale was built in 1942 as a training facility for the Army’s elite 10th Mountain Division. The valley floor contains remains of old barracks, rifle ranges, and bunkers where military personnel trained, slept, and caught a shave after spending weeks rucking or skiing in the alpine areas surrounding the valley. A granite cliff nearby was used for rock climbing and rope training. Soldiers trained on skis in the mountains near Leadville and above Aspen.
The 10th Mountain division had a profound impact on the outdoor industry. Over 60 ski resorts, including Aspen and Vail were founded by alumni, and former soldiers went on to impact brand like Gore-Tex, Vibram and Outdoor Research. The post-war mass sell-off of 150,000 pairs of 10th Mountain Division skis is credited in part with prompting a ski boom in the U.S.
Colorado State Senator Kerry Donovan from Vail has deep ties to the area. Her grandfather trained in winter warfare at Camp Hale before being deployed to the Pacific theater. When he returned to the U.S., he found solace in the mountains that had been his training grounds.
“It’s a powerful thing, to see something that was so important to my family’s history, and to our nation’s history be designated as a monument,” says Donovan. “If you don’t protect these places, we’ll lose that history and they’ll be developed. This national monument means that my great, great, great grandkids will get to know the story of their grandfather. We’ll get to experience it in the same condition as the soldiers who fell in love with the mountains.”
Many veterans come to Camp Hale, as well as the 10th Mountain Division huts to walk in the footsteps of their predecessors and heal in its natural surroundings.
“I found nothing but solace, nothing but relief and peace here in these surrounding hills around Camp Hale…I always tell people that these lands—specifically right here around Camp Hale—they act as my therapist, my gym, my church and my playground,” says Brad Noone, a 10th Mountain Division veteran and raft guide based in Salida, CO.
Camp Hale doesn’t just represent the past of outdoor recreation and adventure, but a potential future economic benefit, too. Donovan says the designation is a boon for local economies. The White River National Forest contains eight wilderness areas, 12 ski resorts, ten 14,000-foot peaks, and over 2,500 miles of hiking and biking trails.
Impact to Huts and Ski Resorts
Colorado backcountry users are no doubt familiar with the areas that now sit within the national monument’s boundaries, as both the Camp Hale and Tenmile areas are popular destinations for hikers and backcountry skiers. The state has a popular backcountry hut system, called the 10th Mountain Huts, and five of the 34 structures now sit within the national monument. On Thursday, the Colorado Sun spoke to Ben Dodge, the executive director of the 10th Mountain Huts, about how the designation would impact the structures.
“I think there is potential, actually, for the experience to get better,” Dodge told the site.
In the short-term, Dodge does not predict any changes to the reservation system for the huts, or the management structure for the structures.
There also will be no major changes to the ski resorts that sit adjacent to the national monument. A statement provided by the White House said the national monument’s creation would not impact the permits that these ski resorts have with the Forest Service to operate. The Sun also spoke to representatives from Ski Cooper, located outside Leadville, who said that the monument’s boundaries allow for the area to someday pursue plans for expansion.
Future Protection and Management
The official designation provides additional funding for site restoration and outdoor recreation, as well as protection from development and mineral extraction. Each monument is able to operate under a set of rules under joint management across multiple regulatory agencies like the Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management.
When Camp Hale was originally constructed, dirt was imported to level the valley floor, and the formerly free-flowing Eagle River was constrained to a straight, narrow ditch as engineers dried the local wetlands to expand training space. These changes make Camp Hale prone to flooding, and it also impacts the local wildlife. A proposed plan would restore the river’s original flow and restore wetlands. The plan also protects historical structures and calls for the potential construction of additional bathrooms and a visitor center.
While officials have yet to publish a management plan, they will launch a review process and solicit public input over the coming years to help shape the area’s infrastructure. Officials predict that the designation as a national monument will attract more tourists and backcountry visitors, and the larger crowds will require an uptick in funding to manage the impact on the trails and environment. The 486-mile Colorado Trail running between Denver and Durango traverses the proposed monument boundaries, and the area is used by equestrians, bicyclists, as well as ATV and snowmobiles. Under a current proposal, motorized recreation would be allowed per current guidelines.
Colorado Senators Michael Bennet John Hickenlooper, both Democrats, alongside Governor Jared Polis previously called on the Biden Administration to permanently protect the area, which is currently managed by the U.S. Forest Service. The designation was a key campaign promise by Bennet, who is up for reelection this November. While the designation faced a few opponents, namely Republican representative Lauren Boebert, it was overwhelmingly popular in Colorado, with one survey conducted by Colorado College pegging its support at 86 percent amongst Coloradans.
“This monument tells a story of what this valley means to so many Americans,” says Donovan. “From the bottom of the river to the top of the mountains, the impact that this landscape has had on our country’s history is pretty rad.”